Sunday, July 8, 2018


How important is it to know the latin names of your plants? Knowing the genus is one thing but how important is it to get the species name correct? Sometimes that can be difficult as I found today when I was researching my flapjack plant. Or shall we call it paddle plant. Can we not get by just knowing the common name? Flapjack plant just wasn't quite enough for me.

 I was trying to find if these two plants I have are the same species.

This one is growing in a hypertufa planter, west facing. All green with just a touch of yellow.

And this one in an east facing pot with companion cactus. Lots of rosy tips to the leaves.

Yes, I knew it was a kalanchoe, but K. thyrsifloraK. luciae or K. tetraphylla? You'll find all three of these names bandied about on the internet and lots of photos showing these colorful ones but there seems to be a tremendous amount of confusion, even among the growers. The internet is not necessarily the most accurate place to go for the identification of plants. How I would love the pale one to be K. tetraphylla because by all accounts it is very rare.

I know that winter cold can often cause the coloring of this kalanchoe but why is it so colorful own the heat of summer? Similar stress? But why isn't the other one stressed to color?

After spending a lot of time reading articles and blog postings about this kalanchoe I have reached the conclusion that all three of mine are probably K. luciae. Is there an expert out there who can confirm this for me?

Next in line for a true id is this plant.

Variously known as walking iris, fan iris, apostle plant, I bought it from a nursery where plants are often not labeled. I was given a small rhizome of this plant by a garden friend last year but it failed to make it though the winter. Determined to try it out in the shady part of my English garden I bought two 1 gallon plants this spring. Just this morning I noticed a bloom. Time for a proper id.
Neomarica was easy but then scrolling though photos and id on Google I came across species, N.gracilis, N.candida, northiana and N.caerulea. Not to mention Nlongifolia but that flower is yellow. I think I finally narrowed it down to be N. gracilis.

I heard a story about a lady that went into a local nursery asking if they could procure a bird of paradise plant for her. When it arrived she was disappointed to find it was a Mexican bird of paradise. Not the Hawaiian one she wanted. Birds with the same name but quite different latin names. If she had just given the nursery the name Strelitzia reginae there would have been no confusion and she would not have received, Caesalpinia pulcherrima.

Sunday, July 1, 2018


Who buys a book and puts it on the coffee table for 2 weeks? Me. That's who. I wanted to savor the anticipation that came with the purchase.

Anticipation of the wonderful desert landscape projects I was going to see and read about. I don't live in the desert but I love the desert landscape and have spent many vacations hiking in the deserts of the American West. I would love to have the chance to create my own desert landscape although I am sure this will never happen now. But, with a son who lives in Phoenix, my plan is to enjoy the book and then pass it on to him. He is developing some plans for changes to his suburban desert garden and knowing his style this book is perfect.

So after two weeks of anticipation the day finally arrived when I opened the book. No leafing through the pages. I was determined to read about each garden one at a time.

But even before I opened the book I decided to investigate the gardening style of Steve Martino. I came across many articles including the interesting lecture he gave at Oxford University. And words spoken of him, " You celebrate the desert rather than deny it"  and some by himself describing his own work as "weeds and walls" and expanding on how he uses native plants set against his "refined" structures.

This is not really a book review; I have learnt that I am not very good at reviewing books. But rather  to improve my understanding of how I can apply Martino's style to my own garden. Yes, if I was starting over my own garden would probably be quite different. But I think there may still be time to get it out of intensive care and on the road to being a more sustainable garden.

The opening pages begin with a few words from the author, Caren Yglesias, and thanks to the photographer, Steve Gunther, who patiently waited for that perfect moment in time to photograph each garden. (I think we all know when that is... early morning or late in the day.)Then a brief introduction to Martino's designs. Every element in his landscapes must have a purpose. Walls to enclose and create privacy, structures to shade, areas for sitting,  plantings that require no additional water. He used the lessons of the desert itself to create his landscapes.

I was surprised to find that not all his projects are high end, although all had concrete structures which I know come with a price tag. And removal of a traditional style back garden pool, to introduce something more linear, must also be a major undertaking. Some of his designs are to create total privacy and some have majestic desert setting which use a borrowed landscape.

I love how he utilizes the "Accessory building" rule which permits taller structures. Sometimes he uses concrete and sometimes translucent fiberglass panels. Shadows from the structural plants play a big part in his placement of plants. No vegetable gardens here and only native plants. Bold colors are used on many of his walls. I wonder if his clients have input on this or whether like Frank Lloyd Wright he says " You'll get used to it" My thinking is probably not. I must admit I prefer his more muted colors although that may be a function of my age. I went though my bright colored phase in my 30s.

The surprise came when I reached the Casa Blanca Garden. Here was a 90 year old adobe house and Martino had the challenge of designing a garden that would pay homage to this historic structure. He introduced a prickly pear roof which has performed as any other green roof. A small photograph in the book shows the laying down of the pads which have filled in and are now almost 10 years old.

I'll say simply that I love Steve Martino's work and the presentation by Yglesias and Gunther. Just enough information about the projects and plenty of photographs.
The book is back on the coffee table, where, when I have a spare minute, I can leaf though and enjoy these desert gardens once again, before it is on its way to Phoenix.